Band(s): Various Artists
Album: Xtra Mile High Club Volume 5: Smokin’ (Signed Vs Unsigned)
Label: Xtra Mile
Release date: 11 August
Sounds like: Making bad puns about having sex on aeroplanes. Also: the cream of punk, hardcore and indie rock slammed together in one package.
What a generous lot Xtra Mile Recordings are. Here is a label that thrust the sorely missed Million Dead into our hearts and minds, as well as nurtured the talents of the mouth-kicking scallywags, Reuben. Well, they did to me. Anyway, what is this all about? Well, Smokin’ is a compilation album, crammed with a hefty 42 bands – half signed to the label and half unsigned that have been hand-picked by the bands on Xtra Mile’s roster. Cracking idea, Gromit. I must admit, I haven’t followed Xtra Mile in a while, so I was pleasantly surprised to see such a range of diverse acts, mixed in with several new favourites and familiar faces.
Kicking off Disc 1 in spectacular, anarchic fashion is Against Me! with the raucous folk-punk thrash of Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Laura Jane Grace mixes equal sardonic wit and heart in her delivery, tinged with happiness and suitably fiery passion – a cracking start. Not to be outdone at the first hurdle, Michigan’s Cheap Girls are all about the heartland rock-meets the mournful tone of Matt Skiba and are wonderfully refreshing and infectious. Man In Question will be the sleeper hit in your top tracks of 2014, no doubt about it; this is punk rock packed with soul and subtle beauty.
We are still in Bruce Springsteen territory with the rich vocal talents of Northcote on the fantastic Counting Down The Days (The Gaslight Anthem should be taking notes, this is how you do it). Ben Marwood‘s folk rock is a welcoming addition – his voice takes prominence, with the delicate guitar fading into the background to make way for his emotional and wrought vocals, whilst Rob Lynch brings up-beat, folk-pop-punk joy, delicate keys and warm, enticing background “wooaahhhoooos”.
Other highlights include the wonderful Billy The Kid – scrawling, pop-rock that will burrow into your brain, completed by gorgeous, soaring vocals; Retrospective Soundtrack Players who come across as a weird mix of James Dewees‘ Reggie and the Full Effect, meets A Great Big Pile Of Leaves having a massive piss-up around a mellotron. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah sound like they’re on some mind-bending trip – expansive layers of synthesised noise, with rambling vocals littered throughout.
Smokin’ is a compilation album, crammed with a hefty 42 bands – half signed to the label and half unsigned that have been hand-picked by the bands on Xtra Mile’s roster.
The massively brilliant Crazy Arm ditch their raucous punk rock for a more stripped back, Americana-folk affair, showcasing the powerful lungs of frontman Darren Johns. Crazy Arm are the absolute highlight and quite rightly, dominate disc 1 with their depth, rawness and fantastic song-writing. Jon Snodgrass is a close contender mind – his brief, 84 second, toe-tapping contribution brings to mind the harrowing sorrow of William Elliott Whitmore, with a wry smile tacked on.
The venom is packed in at the end, with Jamie Lenman straining at his bonds, teeth gnashing, spittle flying during the metallic, hardcore storm that is Shower of Scorn, whilst Oxygen Thief pack tight, Therapy?-riffs and dense pounding drum patterns into 3 minutes of agitated, almost-spoken word disdain. Closing track is courtesy of Frank Turner’s Mongol Horde, and those still missing Million Dead will be rewarded by some snapping, disjointed punk rock, with Turner stretching his scream far and wide on the gnarled and bitter chorus.
So, that’s the signed stuff – what about the real talent then? Onward to disc 2!
The Frankl Project open disc 2 with their snotty, discordant sound that has a somewhat slacker-rock feel to it, whilst Failures Union who not only have a great name, have a great sound – and that shared melancholy of Cheap Girls, with soaring, dramatic passages of twinkling emo-rock. Switching back to acoustics, Kayleigh Goldsworthy has a wonderful voice, that matches her foot-tapping Americana beautifully, whilst the bizarrely named Quiet Quiet Band sound like a more tolerable Gogol Bordello; sandwiching ramshackle folk-punk with a particularly wild circus act and the gut-bursting choruses of Crazy Arm meets Swingin’ Utters.
No idea what is going on during Speak by Spring Offensive; which isn’t to say it’s not good – the fractured, experimental tapping, noodling, glitch-ridden indie-rock delirium is oddly captivating and sets this apart from everything else on offer. Think Awolnation, if he was more into indie than punk. International Departures tick the Big Scary Monsters-band boxes – their twisted, tappy-emo, is tightly structured and the perfect listening experience on a hot summer’s day. Little Rob and the Mob are an intriguing bunch – vocally, it reminds me of Bjork meets Hellsongs (a delicate, sultry vocal lead), backed by mandolin, hand-claps and crisp, luscious guitar tones.
Brunel shake things up by pouring grit all over their instruments and then chuck them down a flight of stairs. Their crusty, brusque alt-rock is a jarring and barbed assault, headed by a snarling, snapping mouthpiece and off-kilter riffs. They just sound angry and fucking great fun rolled into a blaring package. The Karma Party are hilariously silly sounding, yet still perfectly listenable – their metal-riffs, sandwiched with electronic warps, rap-rock posturing and furious layers of laserbeam sounds – hey, they sound like they’re having a great time and who am I to put a dampener on things?
Strange Planes sound un-mastered to hell, which adds to the charm of their caterwauling, scribble of punk rock, that reminds me strongly of much-missed (well, by me) Colour of Fire. Samoans close proceedings with their jagged, early-Biffy Clyro (Blackened Sky) sound which is limb flailing riffage and intense passages of intricate math-rock punishment.
Xtra Mile deliver the goods with this excellent and affordable compilation, that will please old and new fans of their roster in equal measure – get on it now.